Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

Chris Holcomb


This dissertation examines the rhetorical nature and dynamics of Southern humor in the second half of the twentieth century by analyzing, from a distinctly rhetorical perspective, a selection of popular Southern humor texts. It seeks to understand how Southern humor happens--its methods and techniques--and it also seeks to understand, as much as possible, the implications of these events for the various interlocutors and participants involved. By investigating the stylistic, storytelling, and linguistic techniques of Southern humor, while relying on the scholarship of writers in a variety of academic disciplines, I hope to answer the following research question: how does Southern humor, as a discourse event, enact and affirm many of the stereotypical aspects of the "Southern identity," while it also questions and deconstructs those stereotypes at the same time?

Chapter One lays out the theoretical foundations, in both humor theory and Southern identity theory, that the subsequent chapters build upon. Each of Chapters Two, Three, and Four uses one of Aristotle's rhetorical appeals as a way of studying the rhetorical methods and impact of Southern humor in a more focused way. Chapter Two explores how Southern humor creates incongruity through the application of framing devices and the distortion of logos and demonstrates that humor derives as much from the way a joke is told as it does from any specific content or subject matter. Chapter Three focuses specifically on the role and persona of the humorist or comedian in the humor event and looks at how that role imbues the humorist with a great amount of rhetorical power but also distances him or her from the audience. Chapter Four examines the rhetorical nature of laughter in humor, as well as the unique and paradoxical position of the humor audience as both a passive recipient of humor and the ultimate arbiter of the success (or failure) of that discourse. Relying heavily on the work on Mikhail Bakhtin, the concluding Chapter Five attempts to step beyond the normal limits of Southern humor by looking at Toole's Confederacy of Dunces and its grotesque protagonist, specifically, in order to better comprehend and test the limits of humorous decorum.